IT'S a crisp winter's day, the sort perfect for ensuring clear sightlines to the horizon - the perfect day, in fact, to be on the roof at arguably the best viewing spot in Glasgow's south side.

Allistair Burt and Kathleen Leitch are surveying the scene: bustling Shawlands Cross along to the right, Queen's Park out in front and to the left the Campsie Hills.

For Burt, a resident in the Camphill Gate building, it must feel a rare chance to stop and take a breath.

He spearheaded a campaign to refurbish the B-listed tenement building, a labour of love that turned into a 13-year and £1.4 million endeavour now, finally, completed.

"It's been a long journey," Burt says, "Longer than we would have expected."
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Camphill Gate boasts a raft of unique features: it was the first fireproofed tenement building in Glasgow, it has its drying green on the roof, it's four storeys tall, and it's probably the only tenement in Glasgow using a Twitter account.

But a lack of timely repairs and a poorly done renovation in the 1980s had left the building in need of a lot of TLC in the form of a major repairs programme, no easy feat without the buy in from every owner.

Leitch is a Project Officer in Glasgow City Council's Private Sector Housing team where she's dealt with property grants since 1987 - and she's been working with Burt on Camphill Gate for the past decade.

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Her role involves mediation between owners and landlords, helping repair schemes get up and running, in particular when there's division over what needs done and how much it might cost.

She said: "Things have changed over the years in that the number of private lets in these buildings have skyrocketed.

"It's not always the case that when you have a majority of landlords they're not interested in restoration work. Some are quite proactive about it, you can't beat them all with the one stick.

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"But there's always one person in a building that holds things up for whatever reason. So my role is a mediator to get to the bottom of what the issue is and talk them through their financial options."

Sometimes the sticking point can be an empty flat in the building with a missing owner - estates that haven't been properly wound up, say, or landlords who've abandoned the property.

A building like Camphill Gate, built in 1906 by Sir John Auld Mactaggart and designed by John Nisbet Architects, comes with the challenge of having commercial properties along with residential.

While there are powers under Section 30 of the Housing (Scotland) Act to serve a statutory notice if a property is in serious disrepair, there's little means to compel owners to take part in refurbishment or repair schemes so the power of persuasion is vital.

Statutory notices have been used to good effect in areas of Glasgow like Ibrox and, particularly, Govanhill, but would not be applicable in a largely well-maintained building like Camphill Gate.

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"In other areas we just chip away," Leitch adds.

It's a difficult job having the residents, the factor and the council all working together to having a proactive residents' group, Leitch says, is a "delight".

Having the council on board giving backing to the residents association was, Burt says, gave the group added authority.

He said: "Council officers came out at night and explained to people what would happen, what we could get funding for and not get funding for.

"They gave us a stronger voice to say if you don't deal with this it's going to become a bigger issue - which people were just not taking seriously.

"People get scared because they know they're going to be asked to pay money but they don't know what is involved so a lot of my role has been explaining that."

Burt worked for 15 years as an architect before switching careers to become an illustrator.

"I hung up my hard hat in 2016. And that gave me more time to focus on getting Camphill Gate done," he says with a laugh.

When Burt and his wife were flat hunting they viewed their property in Camphill Gate and asked to see the roof but were told no one used it.

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He said: "I asked for the key and went up for a look and just thought, 'This is really cool, I'm going to live here'."

"The communal feeling of the building is really nice and that's down to the roof. In the summer we had an architectural historian over from America and he came for a tour of the building because he's writing a book on Utopian roof gardens of the 20th century.

"He came for a tour round and was telling me a lot of roof gardens were built at that period time because they were seen as a utopian ideal and it is - when we're up on the roof having a BBQ or whatever you can see all the other residents washing their dishes and wishing they were up here with us."

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As Burt romanticises the roof, Leitch brings us back to earth with a bump: "Flat roofs in Scotland, let's face it, with the rainfall, it's not an easy gig at all."

When Burt first moved in the roof was being used as a dumping ground. He found a broken fridge, a bike with no wheels and planks of wood.

He cleared it all off and neighbours began to use it again as a social and leisure space but it was clear a lot of work was needed to refurbish it.

Burt met with Glasgow City Heritage Trust and the city council to explore funding options and discovered that grants were contingent on refurbishing the whole building, not just parts.

In 2013 he met with Fiona Sinclair, a conservation architect specialising in historic buildings, to talk to her about Camphill Gate but it would be another three years before the factors gave permission for her to carry out a survey.

Burt and Leitch are effusive about Sinclair and her additional powers of persuasion, which came in particularly handy when a stonework issue at the rear of the building added an an extra £200,000 to the costs.

The list of works was extensive, from re-roofing the backcourt and the roof proper to re-installing the roof's railings and cupolas, re-rendering gable walls and chimneys, extensive stone repairs to the front facade, new downpipes, new gutters. And on and on.

Burt wrote to the great great grandson of the Sir John Mactaggart to ask him for any family history around Camphill Gate and was rewarded with a £2000 donation.

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Fundraising was a key component of the project with Burt designing prints and mugs for sale, seven "secret" gigs were held on the roof along with various other events.

One of the flats had been sold and was lying empty so the owners gave Burt the keys and they turned it into an exhibition space, which Glasgow City Heritage Trust used for events.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust was so impressed by the work of the residents that the Trust nominated Camphill Gate for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings' inaugural Best Loved Building Award in 2022.

Niall Murphy, Deputy Director of Glasgow City Heritage Trust, said: "Camphill Gate has been an exemplary project for Glasgow City Heritage Trust and has benefited from one of our largest grants.

"Trying to get 38 different tenement owners to work together is no small task but we were so impressed by our grantees’ tenacity.

"That it was shortlisted to the last four for this UK-wide award is a reflection on their achievement."

Camphill Gate also formed part of Doors Open Day.

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Burt says he didn't miss a single event in the 10 most active years of the project and was spending at least a full day a week working on the Camphill Gate repairs scheme.

Sinclair said: "Camphill Gate is such an unusual building, and both the council and Heritage Trust were so struck by the amount of work the residents were planning that they were carried along by it and could see this was a project worth supporting.

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"That was down to Allistair and his neighbours because they really pushed for this funding – and that’s what a project like this takes.

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Picture: Andrew Cawley

"It needs really proactive owners who do that extra work on behalf of their neighbours. They were always prepared to give that amount of time.

"Camphill Gate residents have been very lucky with Allistair and his small band of helpers because they have achieved a lot and it is all credit to them."

Sinclair was attracted to Camphill Gate by its unusual features, she talks about the flat roof, its height, its unusual facade with bay windows and cupolas.

It's a good thing the building had so much going for it, given the length of time of the project.

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Picture: Andrew Cawley

"It sometimes does just take that long to deliver a project," Sinclair says. "Sometimes something just throws a spanner in the works. Obviously lockdown didn’t help but there were multiple other spanners on this project."

After a great deal of negotiating with the owners of the 24 flats and 13 businesses, the funds and plans were finally in place when the pandemic hit and everything stopped.

But post-lockdown, in July 2020, the crunch came. Glasgow City Council, in a bid to clear a backlog and get things moving, gave those on the list for grants 30 days to get everything ready.

And for those with their share of the money in place and full agreement from residents, they would pay 50 per cent of costs.

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After 12 years, 30 days was short notice. "That was a bit of an ask, wasn’t it?" Leitch says. "But none of them failed. There was quite a lot of projects around the city and we were absolutely astounded."

The 50% discount was a carrot and there was a stick too: no 50% grant and an extra 15% surcharge for any owners who didn't contribute.

Demand for grant funding from Glasgow City Council has increased since the pandemic, Leitch says, as people spent more time in their homes.

The stagnating property market has also contributed to the rise; the average turnover on a tenement flat is five years but fewer people are moving due to the rising costs of new build homes.

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It can cost around £50,000 to £60,000 per flat for major repairs so areas in the south side and west end of Glasgow, where there's equity, are seeing the most bids for funding.

The length of the Camphill Gate scheme has meant some people have moved on which, Leitch says, actually makes things easier as new owners buy properties knowing what's going to be involved.

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The project has brought the neighbours together. At Christmas they rent a restaurant space and eat Christmas dinner together.

It makes it easier to ask people to "spend an absolute fortune" when they all get on, Burt jokes.

The community feel is obvious in the building. Leitch says: "It's got a settled feel about it. A lot of buildings you go into there's a transient feel about it and you can sense no one really cares here."

In some of the buildings Leitch works in it can be necessary to bring together a range of agencies from police to landlord enforcement to environmental health.

It's useful if one of your neighbours is an architect and both knowledgeable and passionate about the build environment.

For those without such luck, organising refurbishments and applying for grants is a daunting prospect but both Leith and Burt recommend a website called Under One Roof, which is packed with advice.

Councillor Kenny McLean, Convener for Housing and Built Heritage at Glasgow City Council, said: “Camphill Gate is a fine example of Glasgow’s built heritage and the restoration project there shows what can be done when owners and project partners come together – in this case, something special has been done.

"The council supported this scheme, alongside the owners and Glasgow City Heritage Trust, in what became a labour of love for a number of people in all of the organisations involved.”

The building work was finally completed in December last year and was finally signed off in early 2023. Finally, Burt and his neighbours can simply relax and enjoy their homes.

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"We don't just own the building, we own the responsibility for the building and it's our job to make sure the building is still here for people coming in 100 years time," he added.

"Everyone feels a considerable amount of ownership but we are just the current custodians."